Christopher C. Gooding - Pioneer
Life and Times of Christopher Columbus Gooding (1824-1907)
C. C. Gooding of South Canon Tells Tales of Pioneer Days in Colorado?Lynch Law Only Means Afforded for the Protection of Individual Rights In Those Primitive Times.
Canon City has its full quota of the early settlers of the state, men who were attracted here nearly half a century ago by the report of fabulous finds of gold in the vicinity of Pike's Peak, and they are an interesting class of people to talk to as they possess a fund of fact and incident in relation to the winning of the West from savagery that must furnish the historian with the material necessary for a proper chronology of that stirring and dramatic period.
The adventures and experiences of C. C. Gooding, of 118 Riverside avenue South Canon, in the mining camps of the Rocky Mountains, before the outbreak of the Civil War, renders him a man of more than ordinary note among the Argonauts of his day, and a conversation with him in relation to the times of which we speak will elicit information not easily obtainable from other sources.
Mr. Gooding came from Michigan to Colorado in the spring of 1858, making the trip across the plains over the old Santa Fe trail from Independence, Missouri, as far as Bent's Fort, where the party he was traveling with struck off to the northwest, their objective point being the new mining camp, on the site of what is now Central City, some forty miles west of Denver, which was at that time believed to be one of the most promising "diggings" this side of California.
Naturally of an energetic disposition and with the trading instinct strong within him, Mr. Gooding soon became a highly prosperous citizen of the camp, a condition partly brought about by his unflagging industry, and partly by his foresight in purchasing the claims of his dissatisfied companions.? It was necessary, for obvious reasons, to have a partner and Mr. Gooding "hitched up" with a rawboned farmer from Illinois who was as honest as the day is long.
Things went along nicely with them, although they did not escape the hardships incident to their manner of living.? Sometimes the "grub" grew low and they were reduced to short rations, but supply trains from the East, under military escort, always arrived in time to prevent starvation.? One great trouble was the lack of vegetables and many of the miners died from scurvy, Mr. Gooding's partner among the number.
The death of his companion was a great blow to Mr. Gooding and he decided to take the remains back to Illinois for burial and avail himself of the opportunity which it would afford of visiting his wife and family in Michigan.? In due time the tedious trip back to the Missouri river, with it attendant dangers, was over and after going on to Illinois and discharging the sad mission which had taken him East, Mr. Gooding spent some time at his old home in Northern Michigan; but the mining fever was strong upon him and he could not resist the impulse to return to Colorado and again take up the pick and shovel which the death of his partner had compelled him to relinquish.
The return journey was monotonous in the extreme, as such trips were before the era of railroads in the West, the only break in the tedium of affairs being an occasional brush with the Comanche Indians, who were very troublesome about that time.? Just before reaching the Santa Fe crossing of the Arkansas river they met a party of forty-seven Californians who informed them that there was at least twelve hundred hostile Indians camped a few miles further on and that to proceed would result in their massacre.
After consideration it was decided to make a bluff and go ahead, trusting to luck to get them out of any scrape in which they might find themselves when they reached the camp of the redskins.? They crossed the river and followed the trail for about half a day, which brought them into the midst of the Comanches, who were found to be more than a thousand strong, one-third of whom were warriors.? The men had streaked themselves with vermilion and were about as hideous a looking set of robbers and cut-throats as could be found anywhere on the plains.
The party was soon surrounded by Indians, who demanded the surrender of their horses and provisions as a ransom for their lives.? Realizing that they would starve to death if they acceded to the terms proposed by the Indians, they requested a conference with the chief, and finally succeeded in effecting a compromise by which they were allowed to proceed to their destination on giving up half of the food supplies.? The chief was given to understand that the party would fight rather than surrender all of its provisions, and, on being convinced that they meant business, agreed to a compromise and gave them a safe conduct through the country.
The peculiar method of administering justice in the mining camps of Colorado a generation ago was a matter that seemed very strange to Mr. Gooding at first, but as he became accustomed to it he grew to admire its efficacy as a means of preventing crime, and the penalties which the miners' code prescribed for murder, thefts and other offenses, did not appear to him unduly harsh when the circumstances were taken into consideration.? To rob a man of his horse or his provisions, in those days, meant more than it does now, and there could be no punishment too severe for those who were builty of such crimes.
Mr. Gooding says it grated upon his sensibilities at first to see a man hung for horse stealing, without due process of law, but all? sentimentality wore away in the course of a few years, and the time came when he felt no compunction in helping string up a criminal of that character without giving him the benefit of clergy.? It was the only means at and for the protection of individual rights and it was wonderfully efficacious; without it the weak would have been the prey of the strong.? Miners' law was based upon the Mosaic code and demanded "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
It is to the credit of these self-constituted administrators of the law that few innocent men were hung or that few guilty ones escaped punishment.? Before the death penalty was inflicted the accused was given a trial, and unless the evidence against him was convincing he was acquitted of the charge upon which he was brought to the bar of justice.
Mr. Gooding recalls the hanging of a man in Denver, by a vigilance committee, in 1858 for horse stealing, and the sullen, dogged look of the accused and the determined, resolute appearance of the vigilantes made an impression on his mind that he will never forget.
In the early days of the mining excitement a man was hung at Mountain City for the robbery and murder of one of his fellows who had started back to his home in Indiana with a sack of gold dust which he had been years in accumulating, and never was summary punishment better merited.
The "miners' law" of the old territorial days had a wonderfully restraining effect on the lawless element of the camps and theft was less common thatn in the older and more perfectly organized communities of the East.? Miners used to leave their provision in ther cabins without protection of any kind and felt no uneasiness about their security, although they usually buried their gold dust, as to leave in lying about was a temptation which human nature could hardly be expected to resist.
The experiments of the pioneers of Colorado were full of dramatic and exciting episodes and must always be regarded as one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the state.? They were a brave, hardy race and Mr. Gooding thinks they ought to be pensioned as public benefactors.
|Owner/Source||Canon City, Colorado, Record|
|Date||3 Aug 1905|
|Linked to||Christopher Columbus Gooding|